Our Core Belief System
Have you ever believed something that wasn’t true, like a lie someone told you, or maybe one that you told yourself? Years ago, I found myself believing the lie, “I am not good enough.” Now, generally, it is evident that our lives have value and worth. However, circumstances and traumas, disappointments and pain, celebrations and victories all have the power to tell us stories we believe about ourselves. That story can take root in our hearts and minds to form what we call Core Beliefs (1).
In the first part of this series, I discussed the power of our thoughts and ways to begin recognizing automatic thoughts. In today’s post, my encouragement for us takes these thoughts one step further: “the concept of a core belief captures the idea that our negative automatic thoughts are not random” (1, p. 71). In fact, once we begin noticing our automatic thoughts, we may find recurring themes that are woven within them.
Let’s break this down by using a camera as an example. A camera is a tool that captures a moment in time. It recreates the light, setting, objects or people that are within your frame of reference. Now let’s add a fishbowl lens to the camera. What do you notice? The image within the frame becomes oblong, and the setting looks very different from what your eyes were originally viewing. In essence, this is how core beliefs function as well. They are a lens through which you perceive the world, respond to others, and view yourself. So how can you place an accurate lens on your camera? Better yet, what are some strategies that can help break the negative core beliefs that you hold so tightly?
Distinguish Shame vs. Guilt
Part of the process of identifying and breaking negative core beliefs is understanding the difference between shame and guilt. In essence, guilt says I did something bad. Shame says I am something bad. Chipp Dodd (2), author of Voice of the Heart states, “guilt is a gift that allows us to feel and accept that we’ve done something wrong. It sparks the wish and vulnerability for change” (p. 123). Shame is the emotional recognition of the potential to fail and to do harm, to succeed and to love.” Understanding the difference between guilt and shame is crucial as we notice, dissect, and challenge our core beliefs.
Actions and Character are Not Married
I once encountered an individual who had aggressive behaviors and broken family relationships with very little hope for change. Upon asking him about his hopelessness, he stated, “Well, things won’t change because I am just a bad kid.” I then asked, “Why do you think you’re a bad kid?” He responded, “Because I do bad things.” Wow! I immediately perceived freedom for his future if he could learn his actions were not equivalent to his identity. It was important for him to begin to take ownership of his actions and the consequences that came from them. I encouraged him that life could look different for him if he switched out his fishbowl lens and view himself from the perspective of truth. When I remember this young man, I think of Nancy Alcorn’s (3) statement: “so many people live apart from their identity and purpose because they choose to believe the lies” (p. 61). This individual had a choice in what he thought and believed, just as we do. We are not powerless to our thoughts or core belief systems. It takes process, but with hope.
Take Your Thoughts to Court and Speak Truth
One way that we can identify core beliefs is through journaling. According to Lawrence Franz (4), “journaling helps the [individual] to monitor himself or herself and analyze the data in an attempt to reveal the truth of the situation” (p. 122). Put your core beliefs to the test and explore their validity. How do we do that? Take them court! Wells and Goleman (5) encourage us to create a “list of examples that will support or validate the thoughts that we believe to be true… In actuality, this technique can help expose the falsehood of our ideas” and negative core beliefs. (p. 173).
Now that we have exposed the negative core beliefs, I encourage you to bring truth to the lie that you have been believing. What is true about you? Which specific truth can you speak to each lie that you have identified? Be as specific as possible. Allow the truth to speak directly to the lie. Write it down. Declare the truth out loud because your words have power and allow your brain to begin changing those pathways, creating new lenses by which you view yourself, experiences, others, and the world.
- Gillihan, S. J. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, And Worry. Althea Press.
- Dodd, C. (2015). The Voice of the Heart: A Call to Full Living (2nd ed.). Sage Hill, LLC.
- Alcorn, N. (2015). Ditch the Baggage, Change your Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Freedom. Charisma House.
- Franz, L., Gray, J. R., & F. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Using CBT to Battle Anxiety, Depression, and Intrusive Thoughts. Franz.
Wells, T., & Goleman, S. (2019). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Beginners Guide to CBT with Simple Techniques for Retraining the Brain to Defeat Anxiety, Depression, and Low-Self Esteem. Independently Published.